So, you’ve spent tons of time studying for the SAT, registered for the test, but then it hits you—what do you actually do the 24 hours before the test? Stay up all night cramming last minute? Chug three cups of coffee? Get there 5 minutes before the test is supposed to start?
Welcome to your step-by-step walk through of what test day will be like, with some tips to helping you stay focused when you walk through those infamously stressful doors!
Month Preceding the Test:
Besides the obvious things you should do like “study” and “register to take the test” here are a couple of tricks to staying focused during the test that you should work on in the month or so preceding.
- Resolve emotional distractions. They’re not easy to deal with or predict, but it will do you some real good to work out any pressing emotional pressure before the test. It’s not a good idea to break up with your girlfriend the night before the SAT, or have a massive fight with your parents about your curfew. If you have an evil ex, or an ex best friend who you know will be at your test, consider switching to a farther away location so you won’t be near them.
- Take full practice tests. What I consider the best tip on staying focused for the entire SAT is to practice taking THE ENTIRE SAT. Check out this article by a fellow Magoosher, Lucas, on why staying mentally focused for so long is tiring, and what you can do to counteract that.
- Stay healthy. Not just for your sake. But clear nasal passages will greatly help the kid next to you who will otherwise listen to you snuffle through the whole test.
Night Before the Test:
- Lay off the books. The night before is not an all-night cramming session. Yes, you can do it. Yes, it might even help you a little bit. But by far the most effective way to study is incrementally and over time. Obviously you know how you learn best, but at this point general overviews and last minute brush-ups are your friends.
- Collect your materials. In addition to what The College Board tells you to bring, there are a few supplemental materials you may find helpful. Here is a complete annotated list of what you should bring to test day (and that you should gather in a bag the night before).
- Admission ticket (print from the SAT website)
- No.2 pencils (They can be mechanical, but they should be sharpened, and comfortable for you to use)
- Photo ID (Look here for the specifics, but generally a school ID or Driver’s license are standard)
- Calculator (They may be graphing or scientific, but if you have any questions check the deets)
- Snacks (Foods that are too sugary, salty, or fatty with make you dehydrated and eventually crash. Granola bars, trail mix with M&Ms, and apples are all good choices)
- Water (A clear bottle with no label, though in my experience they aren’t that strict)
- Gum (This is an SAT lifehack for kinesthetic learners!)
- Watch (Preferably an analog one with no beeper that might go off, and one that you’re accustomed to)
- Not your cell phone (while I can’t officially condone bringing a College Board condemned item into the testing hall, despite the fact that it’s incredibly useful to communicate with your parents about when your test ends because end times vary widely across testing halls, and that you pretty much sold your soul to anyways…yea. Just make sure you power it off, and tuck it away in your bag during the test, and don’t try to use it during the breaks.)
- Set out comfortable clothes. That college hoodie that you’ve worn to every standardized test since freshman year, and the yoga pants that fit you perfectly. Pajamas are completely socially acceptable in this context; nobody cares as long as you don’t wear something squeaky or itchy or otherwise distracting.
- Go to sleep at 10:30 pm. Realistically you should go to sleep when you are used to and is healthy. Whether you’re a 9-hours-a-nighter, or a 6-hour night-owl-early-bird combination like me, go to sleep when you will get the max hours you can sleep all the way through. 10:30 gives you a standard 8 hours, which is a good guideline.
The Big Day
- Wake up at 6:30 am. Rise and shine, its go time! Waking up this early will help you be truly awake by the time you need to take the test. So take a shower, eat a delicious, long-sustaining breakfast (granola, an omelet with veggies, and fruit are good options). Drink coffee if you do normally, or if you are practiced at utilizing its magical arts. Coffee can be a great stimulant if used in moderation, but too much caffeine can also drive a person nuts (or you might not be able to focus on your test).
- Leave your house at 7:20 am. Assuming about a 25-minute drive, this should get you to your destination at the prescribed…
- Arrive at 7:45 am. This what the College Board recommends, and honestly what gives you plenty of wiggle room so you don’t feel stressed about missing your test. When you get there you will have time to find the assignment table and boards, locate your testing room, and make your way to it. Who knows, you may even have time to socialize and get some nervous energy out.
- Doors close at 8:00 am, paperwork from 8:00-8:30 am. If it’s your first SAT, don’t psych yourself out and think you’ll be taking your test the moment you walk in the door. You’ve got at least a half and hour before you get your test in which you and your answer card get good quality time.
- If you finish a section early. It means extra time to look over your test, or if you’ve finished that too—take a brain break. One of the best things you can do for an exhausted mind is to just let it go blank for the 5 minutes before the next section. Check out these meditation techniques (which are also useful before the test and during studying) and use the opportunity to drink some water.
- Breaks. If you didn’t have time during the test, this is a wonderful time to meditate, or ground yourself in some way. Despite the fact that they tell you not to talk about the test, it can be very therapeutic to discuss the difficulty of different sections and remember that you aren’t in this alone. For other focus tips for during the test, check out this blog post.
- Approximately 1:00 pm. PARTY! You’re done. Go get ice cream. Listen to music far too loud. Don’t plan on doing anything using your brain for at least 2 hours because it will resemble a putty-like substance that refuses to function.
Please post anything I may have forgotten, or that you would like to add. Good luck on test day everybody!